One of the most appealing things about the field of Nutrition & Dietetics is the ability to participate in primary research studies to gather and develop findings about topics that currently affect our population. It’s often frustrating when mainstream news sources draw and spread conclusions about certain topics based on subjectivity. This is why it’s important for us future professionals to determine the difference between subjective and objective material. It gives us the opportunity to further investigate the literature and answer our future patients with research-based answers. Conducting our own research is beneficial in this profession because it allows us to think critically and to determine why certain phenomenons occur.
At the University of North Florida, we have professors who have a pronounced background in nutritional research and are currently determining the data of their current studies. Dr. Andrea Arikawa, a professor who currently teaches Advanced Nutrition 1&2, has a particular interest in nutrition and its influence on chronic disease prevention. At the University of Minnesota, she began her Ph.D. examining the effects of cruciferous vegetables on the prevention of colon cancer using lab rats. Currently it’s known that cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage can inhibit the development of cancer in mice. However, at the time data was limited. In this study, the rats were injected with a carcinogen called dimethylhydrazene where it can convert to a compound that can damage cells and mutate DNA. Once the rats developed precancerous lesions called aberrant crypts, they were fed different concentrations of cruciferous vegetables. Dr. Arikawa’s study confirmed that when consuming these vegetables it could decrease the amount of aberrant crypts by 40%! Studies that have followed have shown that the reason for these chemo protective properties is due to its glucosinolates. This natural component is found in every cruciferous vegetable and when metabolized it causes this protective occurrence. After receiving her Doctorate, she continued her research at the University of Minnesota with emphasis on the preventative cancer. She continued to measure its chemo protective effects on inflammatory markers, energy balance and exercise using larger based clinical trials.
Now at the University of North Florida she has focused more on teaching foremost but still continues to conduct research studies related to inflammation and chronic disease. Currently, Dr. Arikawa and students are finishing two Vitamin C studies. The first study examined the different vitamin C content found in Floridian orange juices. Students compared different brands, its type of farming methods and the location where the oranges originated. In the second study, students looked at vitamin C loss in different methods of cooking. Both studies are in its final process.
She also is finishing another study with the department of psychology that examines if individuals can maintain their body weight if they are sent different messages via email. In this study subjects of the UNF community were put into three groups. The first group was the control group that received no other content besides weight control. The second group received messages regarding prevention and the third group received messages about the promotion of health. At the end of this study subjects will complete a questionnaire to see if they are more oriented towards prevention or promotion. It will be interesting to see the findings of this study because weight is a subject majority of individuals are concerned with and in this study we will be able to see how psychology can play a role in nutrition and health. The data for this study will be analyzed in March 2018.
Another professor who has a profound interest in research is Dr. Alireza Jahan-Mihan, who currently teaches Nutrition Therapy 1&2. His focus has been in epigenetics, metabolic syndrome, food intake regulation and protein. At the University of Toronto, he began his Ph.D. in the field of epigenetics and obesity determining why 90% of individuals who had hypertension were idiopathic. This was interesting because for the most part these idiopathic individuals contained good health. Dr. Ali explained that in the last 50 years there hasn’t been a change in genes but rather the interactions with the genome and environment has changed (diet). As a result, he commenced a study comparing soy protein versus casein in normal weight and pregnant rats. He found that in offspring, casein protein had a more favorable effect on health markers than soy protein. These offspring contained lower blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure and experienced lower body weight when compared to the soy protein diet. Based on this study, it demonstrates how epigenetics can influence the life of an offspring.
Since his arrival to the University of North Florida, Dr. Ali has focused both on both clinical and animal studies. His first clinical study involved research coordinated with the department of exercise science that examined how the intensity of exercise could influence food intake and appetite. In the post exercise period they found high intensity exercises decreased appetite and moderate intensity exercises increased appetite. The reason for this occurrence was due an inflammatory marker called Interleukin 6. This mechanism is found in protein synthesis and when high intensity is performed, it can be increased thus having the ability to decrease appetite. This study was interesting because it demonstrated that when using different energy systems it had the ability to create different metabolic responses.
Dr. Ali also has focused on animal studies using wistar clinical rats. His most recent studies focused on how dietary proteins during pregnancy and lactation can influence the risk of metabolic syndrome in both the mother and her offspring. In fetal programming, it is believed the nutrition a mother consumes during her pregnancy and lactation can influence important physiological parameters of her offspring. The first study students conducted focused on intact proteins versus amino acid based proteins. In this study they received mixed results, however, in general it was found that intact proteins had more favorable results in all health markers in comparison to the amino acid based protein diet. This was a result of its bioactive peptides, digestion kinetics and other parameters in its structural component. Currently Dr. Ali and students are finishing a study where they compared a high protein diet versus a normal protein diet in pregnant obese rats. With the obesity epidemic rising, it’s alarming to see the negative physiological effects both the mother and children can experience post gestation. Women who are overweight can increase their chances of experiencing glucose intolerance and diabetes and can increase the prevalence of their children becoming diabetic. It will be interesting to see the results for this study.
The Department of Nutrition and Dietetics wants to involve students in research to allow students to develop critical thinking. Both Dr. Arikawa and Dr. Ali believe that conducting research studies are fascinating because it allows for students to answer a question to an occurring event. Not only are there research opportunities in the department of nutrition and dietetics, but there is also a club called the Nutrition Journal Club that discusses the new findings found in the nutrition field. It also gathers guest speakers and researchers that come in and talk about their experiences.